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Specter Prepares Blueprint For Leading Judiciary Panel

Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) is putting together a statement of principles outlining how he would lead as chairman of the Judiciary Committee, a move viewed as the likely last step in securing the support he needs for the gavel.

While Specter declined to say when or how he would present this statement, Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) said he thought it would be released “by the end of the week.”

“I do want to bring as much resolution [to the controversy] as possible,” Frist added.

More than two weeks after the initial furor over his statement regarding anti-abortion nominees to the Supreme Court, no Senators or Senators-elect have outright stated their opposition to Specter’s chairmanship, although many have talked about having concerns and reserving judgement.

With an avalanche of phone calls, e-mails and letters having poured into their offices from angry conservative activists, many Senators have been reluctant to say Specter has the chairmanship wrapped up. But he won his highest compliment to date from Frist on Wednesday after the Majority Leader sat through a total of three hours of meetings in his office with Specter and other Senators in two meetings Tuesday.

“I think he answered every single question to the satisfaction of the members,” Frist said.

Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.), a political supporter of Specter’s who is also the highest profile social conservative in the Senate, said Specter has privately assured him that, if chairman, he would aggressively push President Bush’s judicial nominees out of committee. “I expect Senator Specter to keep his commitment,” Santorum said in his first public comments on the matter.

Santorum, however, said the actual elevation of Specter was something the committee has to deal with first.

Assuming his statement is satisfactory, Specter’s rise to the chairmanship appears certain, Senators said, although the official seal of approval wouldn’t come until the committee does its formal vote when Congress reconvenes in January.

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